Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Jesus Feeds The Multitude

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published January 24, 2008

Not long ago, I showed Brother Mark a poem that was in a poetry journal. It was a brief poem, just eight lines long. It was about a man and a woman, their love for each other, a cup of coffee and his memories of her.

Mark read the poem, thought for a little while, and said he was amazed that so much could be said in eight lines. He said that a novel could be written from the power of suggestion offered in so few words.

Mark is generous in his sharing of what he sees. If four sides of a story are offered to him, he will see eight more. Give him some time, and those eight may offer their sides to him as well. It is a nice gift. And Mark uses it well and with gratitude.

Words have the power to offer an infinite array of free play, of association. The words may be spoken, written, sung or pondered. They are harbingers of a strange and wondrous fullness, acting as they do as so many keys that open door after door of memory, longing, sadness, happiness—as these have come to us through the unique events in our lives. Through those doors we can enter and return to places of hope, of love that has been ours in the past, that is ours to share in the present, or ways of loving that are yet to come. Words help us remember these.

There are Gospel accounts that offer a wealth of meaning with so few words. We know that the sight of a hungering, restless crowd moved the heart of Jesus with pity. He multiplied a few loaves and some fish and fed thousands.

Volumes have been written about this and others in the Gospel—words about Jesus the miracle worker, the hunger of people, the generosity of God, the compassion of Jesus, the Eucharist and world hunger, the human need to be satisfied with food that comes not from us but from God.

We hear these words “take and eat” every morning, not on a hillside but in a beautiful church. We gather because of our hunger for what God alone can give us. The very fact that we gather is a response to God’s call. And so we wait to be fed. But the feast has already begun, and we open our minds and hearts to all that God has fed us with—the associations of the words are real. A few words open to the infinite.

They move us from a long ago hillside to the particular hungers of this day.

We are fed that we might be confident in feeding each other. We can give to each other in different ways, for our needs to give and receive are so different.

How do we do that? The ways are many. God is generous as to how he works through us. As a poem of eight lines suggests a novel in the mind of Mark, these words suggest as much and more than the themes of every book that has ever been written.

The Gospel is not reducible to one expression of hunger—for there are many. One of the pillars above us in the refectory of the monastery bears the words “Man does not live on bread alone.” There are other ways God feeds people.

He asks that we share his foods of kindness, patience, hope, generosity of heart, forgiveness: six words that occupy an inch or two on paper. But they are suggestive of an infinite and many faceted feast of giving.

There is a standard rule of thumb for writing and that rule is simple: less is more.

The language of God is beautiful. He is a good writer. Brief in his verbal expression and infinitely loving in what he says.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at His new book is “Portraits of Grace: Images and Words From the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.”